Nice bit in the NYT on hiking the Grand Canyon, by a Santa Fe resident who didn’t realize what he had been missing.
I hiked to the bottom when I was 12-ish, camping overnight and hiking back up the next day with my mother and stepdad.
[Tangent: On the way up was when I confirmed — partly thanks to four sisters’ training — that engaging women about a film with affirmative female roles such as “Thelma & Louise” draws the interest of the kind of women who … well, the kind whose interest I’d like to draw. (“Wait, you liked that movie?” the two co-eds asked, and we talked for miles.) Obviously there was no real match there, but the sustained conversation on the way up the trail gave me hope for what kind of candidates would be out there once I came of age.
Not gold-diggers and star-chasers but real people just making their way through life, with a minimum standard of … I don’t know — realness, maybe? They were clearly fatigued by the frat-boy element of life, and I personally knew I was destined not to follow a frat-boy path. I could probably tell that story better, but — ack, tangent. Mom told me to go on and walk ahead with these new friends, as she and my stepdad were dragging.]
Anyway, when asked, I always say the Grand Canyon is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. The most moving natural scene I’ve ever come across. I can’t wait to go back. The scene itself is mind-blowing — I can stare, and stare, but I can’t wrap my head around the size and expanse of it. Like a red moon on the horizon, times 100; the context is disorienting. It feels like every extreme feature of the natural earth all in one place. One massive place. But that’s just from the edge.
To experience the canyon, you have to leave the rim. The frustration aroused by the bigness, the grandness, on a rim-only visit becomes a liberation once you drop down. The modern world falls away. It’s not just a trip out of the human realm, but into the deep geology of the earth. Layer upon layer of the planet’s crust is revealed, stratum by stratum…
Maybe I was biased by it being some sort of coming-of-age experience (not referring to the co-eds, although I shouldn’t rule out that influence, lest Freud slap me). Disappearing into that world, hiking mile after mile into new features of the land … mentally peaceful like a library or sitting in the woods, physically exhilarating like a wind sprint on your best day.
My shins hurt on Day 2 from going down hill the day before. Dehydrated and famished, when I got to the top I had a big meal — which I vomited one hour later. Physically, I was beaten to hell. But the entirety of the experience became just a beautiful memory, sheer wonder. I still have so many snapshot memories in my head of different spots on the trail, from the hot red rocks at the top to the green river at the bottom. I think we only had two or three pictures from the whole trip; maybe that lack of photo evidence allowed my brain to take over the archives, and not fall prey to only the tyranny of discriminating photos.
It’s a perfect memory.
Could I be disappointed if I went back? That prospect is frightening. I haven’t had too many of those, where revisiting a place creates disappointment instead of renewal. But I suspect it happens more often as you get older.
For the Grand Canyon, and to take the real woman I found and show her the experience, the risk is worth it.